Clifford Odets (July 18, 1906 - August 18, 1963) was an American socialist playwright, film screenwriter, and social protester.
Odets was born in Philadelphia of Jewish immigrant parents and raised in the Bronx, New York. He dropped out of high school to pursue acting. He helped found the influential left-wing Group Theatre in New York. He joined the Communist Party in 1934, although he left it after eight months.
After a brief career as a mediocre Group actor, Odets wrote Awake and Sing!, in 1935. Although his first play, it is often considered his masterpiece. His first play to actually be produced was Waiting for Lefty; the wild success of this one-act play brought Odets unexpected fame and fortune. These, along with his other major Group Theatre plays of the 1930s, are harsh criticisms of the capitalist class in the Great Depression. They have been dismissed by some critics as mere propaganda; Odets asserted that all of his plays deal with the perseverance of the human spirit in the face of all opponents, whether they be the capitalist class or not.
In later years, Odets' plays became more reflective and autobiographical, although class consciousness was ever in the background.
In 1953, Odets was investigated by Joseph McCarthy and called before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). He disavowed his communist affiliations and cooperated by "naming names"; as a result, he did not share the fate of many of his colleagues who were blacklisted.
Odets' dramatic style is distinguished by his use of a kind of poetic, metaphor-laden street talk, his socialist politics, and his way of dropping the audience right into the conflict with little or no introduction. Often character is more important than plot, which Odets attributed to the influence of Anton Chekhov.
His first wife was actress Luise Rainer; his second wife was actress Bette Grayson. He died of cancer at the age of 57 in 1963.
Midnight - 1930
1931 - 1931
Big Night - 1933
They All Come to Moscow - 1933
Men in White - 1933
Gold Eagle Guy - 1934
Waiting for Lefty - 1935
Awake and Sing! - 1935
Till the Day I Die - 1935
Paradise Lost - 1935
Golden Boy - 1935
Rocket to the Moon - 1938
Night Music - 1940
Clash by Night - 1941
The Russian People - 1942
The Big Knife - 1949
The Country Girl - 1950
The Flowering Peach - 1954
The Flowering Peach became the basis for the 1970 musical Two by Two. Golden Boy became the basis for a 1964 musical of the same name. His screenplay for the Sweet Smell of Success became the basis for the 2002 musical of the same name.
A (very) loose retelling of Clifford Odets's trouble adapting to writing screenplays in Hollywood is the basis for the 1991 film Barton Fink.